In 1999, Washington state resident John Belles made a smart decision. Knowing he lived in an area prone to wildfires, he built his home from concrete to reduce the risk of losing his house should a fire approach his property. In the midst of this week’s raging wildfires in the eastern part of the state, Belles learned how wise a choice that really was. His home survived the wall of flames almost entirely unscathed, while he watched from inside.
The home is a cement dome positioned atop a small hill overlooking an area that is now charred almost beyond recognition. When the fires began approaching Belles’ property, he knew the structure of his home would be safe, but he took some extra precautions by wetting down the roof and using sprinklers around the perimeter of the home. Extreme high temperatures this summer have essentially turned the ground and local plants into highly flammable tinder, which wildfires are eager to devour.
Belles says he waited until the flames were about 30 yards north of the house before he retreated inside. Once he emerged, he realized that the flames had gotten so close to the home that a plastic flower pot melted. He was surprised that the PVC skin on the home didn’t melt, which he attributes to the water he sprayed on the home before taking refuge.
Belles recognizes what nearly everyone in Eastern Washington must accept at this point. The fires are so severe and widespread that firefighters aren’t able to protect homes and communities. In Belles’ case, his foresight back in 1999 paid off, as he had designed his home in such a way that it wouldn’t need protecting from outside services. Although the home survived without damage, Belles was still forced to evacuate, as the power disrupted electricity services in the area. It’s not yet known when residents in Okanagan County will be able to return home.
Images via KXLY News via screengrab